Alan Uglow: Artist who took inspiration from his love of football

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The Independent Online

Alan Uglow was an artist whose work reflected his twin loves of painting and of football.

He was a devoted fan of Chelsea FC and in his best-known pictures, the Stadium Series, minimalist pale-hued fields are outlined and bisected by lines of colour, clearly inspired by the layout of a pitch. Deceptive in its simplicity, his work played a game with the concepts of space and boundaries; he described painting as "a paradox. A finished object that stays open".

Alan Uglow was born in Luton in 1941 and was taken to Chelsea matches by his father and uncle. He got his first taste of abstract expressionism in 1959, on a visit to the Tate's The New American Painting exhibition, which included artists such as Rothko, Pollock and de Kooning; 16 of the 17 painters had made their reputations in New York. So in 1968, after a degree in painting and printmaking from Central School of Art and Design, he travelled to America's artistic capital for a month's visit.

By 1969 he had moved to the city, motivated by what he explained in a later interview as "the energy of New York" and the fact that "the art scene was still developing". He participated in his first group show at Bykert Gallery in 1974, which was followed in 1978 by his first one-man show at Mary Boone Gallery.

In the 1970s Uglow worked with his friend Winston Roeth on printing drypoint etchings, including the The Dartmouth Portraits suite, for Jim Dine. In 1984 he showed at Günther Umberg's Raum für Malerei in Cologne, breaking tradition in a gallery which until then had been known for strictly monochrome works.

During the late 1980s Uglow revisited an idea he had first tried in the '60s, experimenting with automobile lacquer on aluminium. The result was a finely polished finish which reflected – and played with – the viewer, like the paintwork on a gleaming new car. These pieces are designed to be hung below eye level, suggesting perhaps both the idea of getting into a low-slung sportscar, and that abstract expressionism had fallen below the radar of the mainstream art world.

Football was the theme at exhibitions in 1995 at Gimpel Fils in London and in 1998 at the Stark Gallery in Manhattan, the latter of which featured the bright-white installation titled Coach's Bench (1998), accompanied by recordings of texts about soccer by Harold Pinter, Albert Camus and others. Remembering the 1995 exhibition, René Gimpel said: "I liked Alan immensely. He was tough, independent, a chain smoker", adding that he considered him as "an outsider to the art world."

A bilingual monograph, Alan Uglow, edited by Martin Hentschel, was published last year to coincide with an exhibition at the Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld. Reviewing the exhibition, the artist and critic Joan Waltemath observed that "The format of the Stadium paintings, with their symmetrical borders and rectangular interstice, mirror the soccer field's proportions and create a ripe ambiguity between the fields in the painting and the field of play..." and emphasised that "what keeps it from descending to the level of gimmick is the degree to which it reveals Uglow's rootedness in the world around him and how it gives us a way back into his paintings." Marcus Williamson

Alan Uglow was succinct, quietly passionate and generous, writes Tim Ayres. Firstly, succinct in that he only wore black, ever. I once gave him a vintage pink Giro d'Italia jersey, for riding around New York on his bike, and he dyed it black. He never said more than was to the point. He was never terse or taciturn, just sparing. Like his paintings. On our first meeting – I was a young hopeful, he a "been-around the block" artist – he said that I should "set the controls to the heart of the sun" and it made sense. He then raised his eyebrows in that "so get on with it" way that he had.

Alan was passionate about what he cared for in a quintessentially British, understated way. His paintings are generous in their succinctness, succinct in their passions; they always said to me "enjoy this". In the terminology of his beloved football, he always had his eye on the ball.

Alan Philip Uglow, artist: born Luton 19 July 1941; married 1986 Elena Alexander; died New York 20 January 2011.

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